The Windy Year of the Sheep

“In the village of Badbea in Caithness the conditions were so harsh that, while the women worked, they had to tether their sheep and even their children to rocks or posts to prevent them being blown over the cliffs.”

Ambrose Rookwood was the eldest son of Robert Rookwood of Stanningfield, Suffolk by his second wife Dorothea. The family was an old and influential one in the area, having held the manor of Stanningfield sinceEdward I, and had many members who represented Suffolk in parliament. However, the family remained staunchly catholic and many of them, Ambrose’s parents included, were fined and imprisoned for their faith.”(
“Ambrose Rookwood (c. 1578 – 31 January 1606) was a member of the failed 1605 Gunpowder Plot, a conspiracy to replace the Protestant KingJames I with a Catholic monarch. Rookwood was born into a wealthy family of Catholic recusants, and educated by Jesuits at Flanders. His older brother became a Franciscan, and his two younger brothers were ordained as Catholic priests. Rookwood, however, became a horse-breeder. He married the Catholic Elizabeth Tyrwhitt, and had at least two sons.” (
Ambrose Rookwood, the great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather of my husband, Ben Rockwood.  Ambrose Rookwood’s son, Richard Rockwood (nee` Rookwood) fled to Massachusetts after his father was hung, drawn and quartered for his role in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 in England.  Richard’s great-great grandson served on the Union side in the Civil War in America, and was granted land as payment for his services.  He built a house and raised his son, James Rockwood in Terre Haute, Indiana.  There, James had his son, Richard, who then moved to California and started a family.  In 1977, he had Ben Rockwood: to whom I am married.
Ah, Scotland!
I, on the other hand, come from a line of Scots.  Laughlin MacMillan sent his 8 sons away from the homeland wrought with conflicts and oppression, and they sailed from Western Scotland to Nova Scotia in 1820 on The Commerce.  At that point in Scottish history, Highlanders were in a tough spot:
“Raised from the most loyal (to the English) clans — Campbell, Grant, Fraser and Munroe — they were stationed in small groups all over the Highlands, and their duties included stopping such activities as fighting between clans and any insurrection against the King; as well as…not allowing the the carrying of arms for fear of plotting against the English government. Most Scots, Borders and Highland, had not yet accepted being conquered. Finally, after the conquest, (1746) England demanded the Highlanders give up much: All Scots were forbidden to carry arms. All “Highlanders”, that is.” 
The young men selected for the Black Watch were the “pick of the lot” of Highlanders loyal to the King of England. They were often related, and proud of their privilege of bearing weapons. They became known as “Am Freiceadan Dubh” or “The Black Watch”, because of the dark tartan they wore, — they watched the Highlanders; arrested them; killed them and imprisoned them. No weapons were allowed the Highlanders, so it was easy once a Highlander was found, to find the outlawed weapon, arrest them and thus put them in prison (or worse), many were put to death, some had their own names forbidden to be used.
 At this time in history the Blackwatch was ‘hated’ by the Highland Clans who saw them only as traitors….Getting the Scots out of the Highlands was a difficult process, but they did it and they did not use humane methods, nor did they care at all about being humane and using humanitarian methods.”(
My family had always been in a bit of trouble in Scotland.  The MacMillan clan was also in the big battle you watched in Braveheart, except we had been paid by Robert the Bruce to fight on his side; we also received the honor of using the Scottish flag colors for our tartan.  Unfortunately, that battle didn’t exactly fix the political or economic troubles for the land, either.
Ultimately,  “another wave of mass emigration came in 1792, known as the Bliadhna nan Caorach (“Year of the Sheep“) to Gaelic speaking Scottish Highlanders. The people were accommodated in poor crofts or small farms in coastal areas where farming could not sustain the communities and they were expected to take up fishing. In the village of Badbea in Caithness the conditions were so harsh that, while the women worked, they had to tether their sheep and even their children to rocks or posts to prevent them being blown over the cliffs.
Others were put directly onto emigration ships to Nova Scotia(Antigonish and Pictou counties and later Cape Breton).” (
My family was blown over the cliffs and landed in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and most of the MacMillans are still there today.   
However, the line of MacMillans that I hail from have not gotten the Atlantic winds out of their blood, and they kept blowing across The New World.  From Nova Scotia to Minnesota, from Minnesota to Saskatoon, Sascatchuan, from Saskatoon to Los Angeles.  
It was in Los Angeles that my father was born, and later I was born and raised there, as far away from the shores of Loch Sween and the city of Lochgilphead as possible.
In the end, what does all this mean?  
The academia of history has always been a way to connect our times with times in the past.  Honoring those who have succeeded with great things, sympathizing with people who suffered for justice, but mostly relating with those who have lived lives, raised families, accomplished much or accomplished little, but ultimately reached the final goal of life: death.
When I read about Ben’s heritage, I see the spunk of revolution that coursed through Ambrose’s blood still running through the veins of Ben.  The wild gleam I see in his eye when he is in the trenches of his work, or in lively, uninhibited conversations (arguments?) with people is most likely the same wild gleam his ancestors had (which got them in trouble, too). 
Looking back on my nomadic heritage, it makes sense that I have always looked across the fields and wondered what lies just on the other side of the horizon.  What would it be like to live in Denmark, do you think?  How would I raise my kids in Beijing, China?  Will we ever go home to Scotland, or is our home just the wheels on our car, the wind in our sails?
Families pass on legacies; sometimes completely unknown to us until we seek them out.  
I wonder what legacy I am passing on to my children, and ultimately their children.  Or will they look at my life and see a family all trying to stay tethered to rocks while the winds blow us out of our homes and into the crazy Atlantic ocean, just to go on another wild voyage to new endeavors?
I just wonder what is beyond the horizon sometimes.  
It is interesting, at least, to know what lands, and from whom we have been tethered to in the past.